back to school

Sales Tax Holidays Are Coming Up. Here's What States Have Planned

In this file photo, Crayola LLC crayons and other school supplies sit for sale in the back to school section inside a Target Corp. store in Torrance, California, U.S., on Tuesday, August 20, 2013.
Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This summer, more than a dozen states are offering shoppers a back-to-school sales tax break.

Whether it’ll be enough to draw legions of parents to mom-and-pop shops amid a pandemic is looking iffy.

Depending on the state where you’re shopping, you can knock off anywhere from 4% (Alabama) to 7% (Tennessee) when you’re buying clothes, shoes and school supplies during select weekends, according to personal finance site WalletHub and the Federation of Tax Administrators.

These are the 16 states that are offering a back-to-school break this summer: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Five states currently don’t assess a sales tax. They are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon.

A cruel summer

The timing of this year’s tax holidays is less than auspicious.

“The rhetoric is that one of the beneficiaries of sales tax holidays are these local Main Street businesses,” said Howard Gleckman, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

“The problem is that in a lot of places, those businesses are closed,” he said. “Who are you helping? Walmart, Target and other big chains that have the resources to stay open.”

Indeed, as of July 10, some 26,119 shopping and retail businesses were closed, according to data from Yelp. Close to half of those businesses have shut their doors permanently.

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Further, parents remain uncertain about what the school year will look like.

They might feel less inclined to freshen kids’ wardrobes and snap up new backpacks if their kids are going to spend most of their time distance-learning at home, said Gleckman.

Finally, the tax holidays come at a time when states’ coffers are under pressure, due to falling sales and income tax revenues.

Layoffs and business closures have hampered states’ budgets, which fell short by $110 billion during the 2020 fiscal year, according to estimates from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The 2021 fiscal year, which started on July 1, is already looking worse: Budgets face an estimated shortfall of $290 billion, the center found.

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